St. Olaf College | News

Caring for the earth, starting with efforts on campus

At St. Olaf College, we work to identify sustainability goals and put them into action. St. Olaf was the first liberal arts college in the nation to construct a utility-grade wind turbine for the sole purpose of providing energy directly to the campus. Nicknamed “Big Ole” by students and faculty, the St. Olaf wind turbine rises above 40 acres of college-owned land blanketed with solar panels. The college’s solar subscriptions, combined with the energy generated by its wind turbine, have enabled St. Olaf to achieve 100 percent carbon-free electrical power.

Bordering both the wind turbine and solar panels are the St. Olaf Natural Lands — 350 acres of woods, prairies, wetlands, and trails adjacent to campus that the college has spent more than three decades restoring to recreate ecosystems that were once common in southern Minnesota. Through research and conservation work, faculty and students work together on sustainable practices that can be shared with the wider community.

A commitment to sustainable farming: At St. Olaf, student action can facilitate campuswide change. Megan Gregory ’04 researched land sustainability during her time at St. Olaf, drafting a report showing that the use of sustainable practices does not have an impact on a farmer’s ability to make a profit. Gregory took her findings to those in charge of managing the 400 acres of farmland that St. Olaf owns adjacent to campus, ultimately resulting in the implementation of a “no-till” policy. The action of tilling soil is considered to be environmentally invasive, as the process releases excess carbon into the atmosphere and disrupts soil biota. Farmers in the community who rent St. Olaf farmland are required to abide by the college’s sustainable farming practices. 

A campus garden that produces two tons of produce: St. Olaf Garden Research and Organic Works (STOGROW) is an acre of student-run farmland situated in St. Olaf’s Natural Lands. Students working in the campus garden spend time learning organic farming techniques and sustainable practices before selling the produce to the campus food service, Bon Appétit. Their farm-to-table operation brings more than two tons of campus-grown produce into the dining hall each year.

Student farmers Gunnar Bodvarsson ’22 and Claire Michelsen ’23 say that STOGROW has allowed students to explore their interests in an impactful way, connecting agriculture to humanity’s future. In addition to agricultural sustainability, the student-led Environmental Coalition has partnered with St. Olaf Custodial Services to develop a composting program, placing bins around campus that help the college collect and compost nearly 175 tons of food waste annually.